The Man Who Gets Lots of Credit

In your wallet, you probably have a credit card or two. Or maybe four or five, if we’re getting on the high side. Ten? That’s a bit extreme. Twenty? Unheard of. Around fifteen hundred?

That’s Walter Cavanagh.

guy with lots of credit cards

Cavanagh, above, was a financial planner until he retired about 15 years ago. Now approaching 75 years old, he’s the world record holder in the category of “largest collection of valid credit cards” (per Guinness), with 1,497 at last count, with a total line of credit exceeding $1.7 million. It’s a strange hobby that started on a bet. Cavanagh explained the history to ABC News:

I got started in the late 1960s. Me and a buddy in Santa Clara, Calif., made a silly bet: the guy who could collect the most credit cards by the end of the year would win dinner. I was fresh from the Peace Corps and I got 143 cards by the end of the year. My friend gathered 138. He’s still a pharmacist — like I was back then — if only he had worked a little harder maybe he could have been the one here today.

Unlike his friend, though, Cavanagh didn’t stop after the year was up. Hardly, in fact. He kept applying for new cards and found, with rare exception, that his application was ultimately accepted — although in many cases, he had to write to the issuing company to explain why he wanted credit. (The one place that rejected him was a now-defunct five-and-dime called J.J. Newberry.) And truly, any credit card will do; as the Los Angeles Times notes, Cavanagh has “oil company cards and bank cards, cards from ice cream places and shoe stores, a sterling silver card from the closed Mapes Hotel in Reno, a card from Harry’s shop for big and tall men — though Cavanagh is neither.”

The 1,497 count only includes cards which are currently from existing companies, although Cavanagh admits that he doesn’t try to keep tabs on that. (Per ABC News, he “doesn’t count [invalid cards] in his total collection [but] assumes they are valid until he’s told otherwise.”) That said, he keeps them anyway. He kind of has to — he has to fill a huge, 250-foot (75m)-long wallet, which, yes, is also recognized by Guinness as the “world’s longest wallet.”

But Cavanagh doesn’t use most of the cards — he says, on the contrary, that he only uses one, per Money magazine. And that one rarely has a balance due, either. He pays it off almost every month — and reportedly has a near-perfect credit score.

Bonus fact: As early as the 1980s, American Express was rumored to have a black credit card available — but only to the those who charged extraordinary amounts of money to the card on a regular basis (and even that may not have been enough, depending on the story you heard; some versions required the rich person also be famous). The rumors though were just that — rumors. There was no such card. But in 1999, Amex decided to make the fiction into a reality. Since then, the Centurion Card — colloquially referred to as the Black Card (seen here) — has been available on an invitation-only basis. It’s unclear what the requirements are — Wikipedia says that “most reliable sources agree that Centurion Card holders have historically spent US$250,000 or more per year on lower-level American Express cards, and have annual household incomes of around US$1.3 million and net worths of at least US$16 million ” — but who knows. One thing is for sure: the card has a $2,500 annual fee and a $7,500 initiation fee.

From the Archives: Palladium Credit Card: A really amazing credit card that Walter Cavanagh probably doesn’t have.

Related: A credit card holder with room for 90 cards. (You can use it for business cards instead if you’d like.) If you want to top Cavanagh, you’d need 17 of these; at $16 a pop, that’d run you more than $250, or about 10% of the annual fee on a Black Card.